Transportation Museum gets honor

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 19, 2011

By Shavonne Potts
SPENCER — The Robert Julian Roundhouse and Turntable are probably the most popular attractions at the N.C. Transportation Museum and on Saturday they were designated a historic mechanical engineering landmark.
The American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME) presented the distinction to the museum at a ceremony during the Spring Kick Off event.
The Spring Kick Off featured a host of activities such as rides on the Flagg 75 Steam Engine, live music, the museum’s regular passenger train, miniature golf and others.
The Spencer facility is one of the few remaining early 20th century railroad locomotive repair shops in the U.S. It was built by Southern Railway in 1924 to repair steam locomotives.
The roundhouse and turntable were modified and expanded from 1948 to 1950 to accommodate Southern Railways diesel engines.
In 1979, the complex was donated to the state. In 1996, the roundhouse and turntable were refurbished and opened to the public.
The designation is to recognize the contribution of the roundhouse and turntable to the “progress of American railroading and evolution of mechanical engineering,” said Mark Brown, the museum’s information and communication specialist.
“It’s quite a prestigious honor. It’s truly a historic structure and it deserves the recognition,” Brown said.
Two electric motors rotate the 100-foot turntable on a center spindle, which lines the train up with a section of the track. The roundhouse is equipped with 37 individual repair stalls.
“It’s really special to us. It’s really nice to have it recognized,” said museum Executive Director Elizabeth Smith.
The site is really for children of all ages to see how engineering has evolved, said Susan Skemp, past president of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
This is an opportunity to highlight the evolution of engineering and improvements in technology and safety measures, Skemp said.
Skemp, an engineer, hopes this will also inspire children to go into the field of engineering, especially girls.
Skemp presented the plaque to Keith Hardison, director of the Division of the State Historic Sites, North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources.
A bronzed plaque will hang in the roundhouse.
The Spencer facility was nominated about a year ago by Sandra Kolvick, a member of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers.
“This is a year in the making,” she said. “I’m pleased that everything came together.”
The museum welcomed the warmer weather with its first Spring Kick Off.
One activity that drew lines was the Flagg 75 steam locomotive, which belongs to a father-son team — Byron and John Gramling, who refurbished the train.
The two bought the engine in 1991 and spent the next 10 years restoring it to operating condition.
The engine was originally built in 1930 and was used to switch coal cars to prepare them for shipment. The number 75 pushed cart loads of rock from the steam shovel to the rock crusher at the Solvay Process Quarry Co. in New York state, according to the Gramlings’ website.
The engine changed hands several times before the Gramlings bought it and restored it.
Carolyn Shaffer of Lexington and her husband, Gale, brought their grandson, Nathan, 4, to ride the trains.
The couple have been at other events at the museum including Day Out With Thomas.
“It’s wonderful. It’s beautiful out,” Carolyn said.
She said the Flagg 75 steam engine was gorgeous.
“We rode the diesel. We saw the clowns, the shop and the turntable,” she said.
It was the first time at the museum for Sarina Stanley, her husband Lynn, and their daughter Kaitlyn, 4.
“I’m excited to ride the train and see her reaction,” Sarina said.
Contact reporter Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253.